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County Crime Rate Falls 3.7% in 1994, FBI Says : Safety: Urban area is again safest in 13 Western states, though a slight increase in violent offenses is reported.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County remained the safest urban area in the West in 1994 after crime fell for the third straight year, according to figures released today by the FBI.

The county’s crime dropped another 3.7% last year, reaching levels not seen here for more than two decades and enabling the county to be the safest in the West for the second year in a row.

The drop was thanks mainly to sharp reductions in Fillmore, Santa Paula, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks--and to Oxnard’s continued success with citizen patrols.

But the FBI report shows that Ventura County barely retained its distinction as the urban area with the lowest crime in the Western 13 states.

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And violent crime, a small percentage of the total, edged upward.

The county reported 37.1 crimes per 1,000 residents, down from 38.8 the year before and 43.0 in 1992, according to the FBI’s annual Crime in the United States report.

Ranked as the West’s second-safest city with a rate of 37.3 was Fort Collins, Colo., followed by Bremerton, Wash.; Provo, Utah, and San Luis Obispo County.

Ventura County’s 25,944 major crimes in 1994 were about 4,300 fewer than reported just three years before, when offenses reached an all-time high.

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“We have crime,” Assistant Sheriff Richard Bryce said. “But we deal with it, and that’s the difference.”

Unlike many other jurisdictions, where the flood of crime has left jails and courts too jammed to lock up petty criminals with long records, Ventura County aggressively prosecutes them, he said.

“We’re able to take them off the streets,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in Los Angeles County or Orange County or San Diego, and as an absolute consequence, their crime rates are much higher.”

Ventura County’s rate of serious crime was 40% lower than California’s in 1994, and 30% below the nationwide norm, the FBI reported. Crimes reported are murder, rape, robbery and serious assault, theft, burglary, vehicle theft and arson.

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Ventura County looks especially good when compared with other counties in Southern California.

In Los Angeles County, the rate of crimes reported to the FBI was 64.3 per 1,000 residents. And its violent crime rate was three times higher than in Ventura County.

Orange County reported a crime rate of 50.6, San Diego County a rate of 57.7, and the combined San Bernardino-Riverside metropolitan area a rate of 70.9. Santa Barbara County’s rate was 43.3.

Those levels compare with the California rate of 61.7 crimes per 1,000 people, and the national norm of 53.7.

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The recent crime-fighting strategies of most Ventura County police agencies have been similar--arrest more drug users to reduce theft, suppress gang violence through special units and persistent raids, and rally ordinary citizens to come to the defense of their own neighborhoods.

Police officials say the advent of aggressive new citizen patrols--in Oxnard, Santa Paula, Fillmore and Thousand Oaks--has made a difference. “These patrols have raised the consciousness of people about their own personal safety,” said Oxnard Police Chief Harold Hurtt, who has seen citizen patrols in his city grow from one neighborhood to 32 in two years as crime has dropped 18%.

The next step, Hurtt said, is to formally train many of the 1,000 community volunteers in police tactics.

That has already happened in Thousand Oaks. And Sheriff’s Cmdr. Kathy Kemp, who acts as police chief, cited the proliferation of such patrols as a key reason for her city’s sharp crime reduction last year and during the first six months of this year.

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Thousand Oaks is about to graduate its second 25-person class of citizen volunteers, who will patrol trouble spots in their own cars and call for officers when they spot something suspicious, she said.

“We’re trying to keep the community involved,” Kemp said. Thousand Oaks saw an 8.6% drop in crime last year, and is the second-safest city for its size in the nation.

A larger budget resulting from the Proposition 172 sales tax initiative has added five officers to Thousand Oaks’ 84-person force. “That makes a big difference,” she said.

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Crime’s downward three-year spiral is welcome relief to a county that was reeling in 1992 after a 17% surge over the two previous years.

Though the crime increase of those frightening years touched every local community--regardless of poverty or wealth--the trend of the last three has been one of moderation, police said.

Without exception, every local city has a lower crime rate today than it did in 1991.

But some officials note that the decrease in crime has come almost exclusively in the areas of property crime, such as burglary and theft.

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And, they say, Ventura County is still a more violent place today than it was just a few years ago. For example, murders, rapes, robberies and felony assaults were up 1% countywide last year and are 23% higher than they were in 1989.

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Indeed, when only violent offenses are compared, Ventura County’s crime rating falls. Several other urban areas in the West have lower violent-crime rates than Ventura’s 4.76 per 1,000 residents, including Santa Barbara County, where 4.67 violent offenses were reported per 1,000 people last year.

In fact, when Ventura County is compared with the nation as a whole, it does not rate nearly as high as it does in the West--even when violent and property crimes are combined for an overall rating.

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The county ranked 47th out of the nation’s 281 Metropolitan Statistical Areas that reported to the FBI in 1993. A MSA is defined as an urban area that has a central city or a cluster of communities with economic and social ties and at least 50,000 people. Nearly 80% of the U.S. population is located in such areas.

Johnstown, a 242,000-person community in western Pennsylvania, ranked as safest in the country with only 16.5 crimes per 1,000 residents.

Conversely, Miami and surrounding Dade County had the highest crime rate--128.4 crimes per 1,000 people.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Urban Crime in 1994

Southern California

Serious crimes per 1,000 residents*

Ventura County: 37.1

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Santa Barbara County: 43.3

Orange County: 50.6

San Diego County: 57.7

Los Angeles County: 64.3

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Riverside-San Bernardino: 70.9

10 Safest Urban Areas in the West

Serious crimes per 1,000 residents*

Ventura County: 37.1

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Fort Collins, C:olo. 37.3

Bremerton, W:ash. 37.9

Provo, Utah: 40.2

San Luis Obispo County: 41

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Cheyenne, Wyo.: 41.9

Santa Barbara County: 43.3

Santa Clara County: 43.8

Olympia, Wash.: 48

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Monterey County: 48.5

*Murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts

Source: FBI


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